Due to Minnesota’s proximity to North Dakota and Canada, six to seven oil “unit trains” (100 or more cars) are now moving thru Minnesota each day. Mixed purpose trains also are transporting oil, with a smaller number of oil cars per train. BNSF, CP and CN are all transporting oil through Minnesota. These trains are primarily transporting Bakken crude, but also some transport Canadian tar sands oil. Oil cars can be identified by the red 1267 placard. About 65% of North Dakotan Bakken crude is transported by rail, with trains going both east through Minnesota and west into Montana. Like pipelines, rail infrastructure is aging. And the older DOT 111 rail cars are unsafe for oil transport, and yet continue to be used. [http://www.startribune.com/business/239194271.] (Photo by Paul Blackburn, Crude Oil Tank Cars Along the U of MN Transitway, February 2014)
One good piece of news is Minnesota now will have three more state rail track inspectors, up from one, after the HF3172 bill passed in the 2013-14 Minnesota legislative cycle.[Link to the Oil Spill Bill] There are other safety improvements and spill response planning in the new legislation as well, making Minnesota a leader among states in oil transportation legislation!
But much of safety is determined strictly at the Federal level. Suggested improvements, such as newer car designs may not be the answer, as they have also leaked and caught on fire in a derailment. Rail speed curtailments in urban areas have also not been shown to prevent accidents.
And yet the industry plans to expand oil shipments by rail. [Link to Planned Rail Expansion in Minnesota] No permits are required to move oil by rail, and rail is flexible and faster than pipelines. Canadian heavy tar sands crude can be shipped without diluent in heated cars, or with less diluent, called “railbit”. Shippers can quickly move oil to the refineries that are calling for it.
It’s clear from the large number of train derailments, fires and explosions in just one year, that transporting oil by rail is a major health and safety hazard across North America
- Lynchburg, Virginia (April 2014): 15 newer version oil tanker cars derail, catch fire and spill oil; several plunge into the James River. It’s unclear the extent of damage to the river [link to risks to rivers and drinking water] and what the liability of the owners of the rail cars (CIT Group) have for cleanup.
- Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, Canada (January 2014): 17 cars of a train carrying crude oil and propane derail outside the town of Plaster Rock, burning through the night
- Casselton, North Dakota (December 2013): Derailment and collision of grain train and Bakken crude oil train set off explosion and fire leading to evacuation of 2,400 residents.
- Pickens County, Alabama (November 2013): 90-car oil train carrying highly volatile North Dakota oil [link to north Dakota oil] derails and explodes.
- Outside Edmonton, Alberta (October 2013): Oil train carrying crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas derails, catches fire and explodes.
- Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada (July 2013): Train derailment, fire and explosion decimate the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and flattening the city center.
Conflicting Studies about Safety of North Dakota Oil
After numerous rail explosions involving North Dakota Bakken shale oil, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), the trade group for the country's refiners, funded a third-party study. Not surprisingly, their researchers said it didn’t need special handling
But the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) aren’t so sure. Some Bakken oil samples carry a large amount of flammable gas. And some samples had an initial boiling point and flashpoint “that would require handling like the most dangerous flammable liquids.” [Reuters].
The DOT fined 3 oil companies for the way they handled Bakken shale oil, but the penalties were reduced and may be reduced again. It’s unclear how aggressive the federal government will be in holding oil companies and their shippers accountable.
TAKE ACTION TODAY[link to take action] to prevent an increase in oil “bomb” trains and work on improving oil transportation safety in MInnesota. Join with the MN350 community as we work together to protect our people, our communities and our environment.
Planned Rail Expansion in Minnesota
The amount of oil being shipped by railroads is only limited by the number of railroad cars available. “The five American tank car makers have back orders for 48,000 new tank cars through 2014. North American railroads will have the capacity to ship 2 million barrels a day” [source]
Oil industry testimony before congress shows that they expect a surge in rail shipment of explosive North Dakota shale oil. They will need 84% more tanker cars and they expect to continue to use more than 25,000 outdated and unsafe tanker cars, like the DOT 111 cars already in operation.
Total North Dakotan Bakken oil production has surpassed one million barrels a day and is expected to surge in the spring and summer of 2014. That will mean more trains passing through Minnesota. Most of this North Dakota oil ships by railroad, with loading terminals having been built since 2010.
Map found at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/ofrw/maps/MNRailMap.pdf, but it can’t be copied.
Canadian Tar Sands Oil
As of March 2013, there were 32 Canadian oil loading terminals and more being built, including some to load crude from the Fort Murray tar sands region. Both Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific transport Canadian oil into Minnesota. In 2014, Canadian tar sands oil by rail is expected to grow to 200,000 bpd as new loading facilities are built both in Canada and at refineries. Few people know how much of this oil will move through/is moving Minnesota. 200,000 barrels per day would be about 370 rail cars a day, if this were heavy bitumen.
Heavy tar sands oil can be shipped without diluent or with less diluent than is required in rail cars. Heated rail cars and or heated loading and unloading facilities may be required. Less diluent required (more bitumen transported) lessens the cost to ship the heavy bitumen, making shipping by rail a more attractive option.
Refineries on the East Coast, where there are few pipelines from Canada, are building rail terminals to receive oil. Minnesota and Wisconsin refineries have rail terminals.
The National Energy Board in Canada posts the amount of crude oil exports quarterly- see the chart below showing the exploding growth.
Join with MN350 as we work together to protect our people, our communities and our environment. TAKE ACTION TODAY[link to take action] to hold the railroad industry accountable.